President Trump has heavy criticism recently because of reports and evidence that he has used white phosphorus in a manner that is in clear violation of international law.
White phosphorus, also known as WP, is classified as an incendiary weapon. The Geneva Convention on the use of conventional weapons defines “incendiary weapons” as “primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons through the action of flame, heat, or combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target.”
Use of white phosphorus in areas with “concentration of civilians” is illegal under international law.
In medical terms, white phosphorus can be exposed to soft tissue in the human body when inhaled or ingested. Deep absorption of the chemical can cause heart, liver and kidney damage and, in some cases, death. Its impact on skin resembles burn injuries that have a yellowish color and a pungent odor.
According to International law as defined by the United Nations, “It is prohibited in all circumstances to make the civilian population as such, individual civilians or civilian objects, the object of attack by incendiary weapons.”
The Washington Post has revealed that Trump has ordered the use of white phosphorus in a manner that is clear violation of international law, claiming there is abundant evidence of at least two occasions where the chemical was used in “densely populated areas.”
The Post shares footage taken by the group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently that clearly shows white phosphorus being deployed, recognizable by it’s unique spread pattern.
— الرقة تذبح بصمت (@Raqqa_SL) June 8, 2017
According to The Post: “U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting in Iraq and Syria, would not confirm the use of the munition but said in an email that the U.S. military uses it in “accordance with the law of armed conflict” and that white phosphorus rounds are “used for screening, obscuring, and marking in a way that fully considers the possible incidental effects on civilians and civilian structures.” “
The go on to describe the only acceptable usage, compared with how it appears American forces were using it:
“White phosphorus should not be air burst over populated areas due to its indiscriminate effect but it’s not clear from available information that civilians are in the area,” Wareham said. “The [Iraqi Security Forces] is claiming that it used white phosphorus to protect civilians. As such, more information is needed to determine whether the white phosphorus use here is lawful.”
In Raqqa, however, the footage shows the munitions bursting relatively high off the ground over a cluster of buildings. It is unclear if Islamic State fighters are in the area, but thousands of civilians are known to be still in the city.